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WHEN the Labour Party launched its 'Partners Against Crime' document last week, Alun Michael, its spokesman, was annoyed with John Major for having already stolen its ideas. One saw what he meant: Mr Major's anti- yobbo speech of the previous Friday, in which he announced 'a national partnership against the criminal', looked suspiciously like a spoiler. Perhaps what riled Labour was not that the two lists of those who should help fight crime (police, councils, magistrates, schools, citizen Cobbleigh and all) were nearly identical, but that Mr Major had adapted a neat title, much like pirate manufacturers who re-spell 'Rollex' watches or 'Stanly' tools.

Is this a case for breach of copyright? Hardly: the bench would say that both sides were drawing on a common stock of ideas, just as no two parties would sue each other because each had declared that it believed in the pursuit of individual happiness and the communal good. There is, however, a nice difference between Mr Major's partnership and the partners of Labour's title.

has a weaselish smell, perhaps because it has been used too often in politics, particularly at international conferences where things may not be going too well. It also has commercial connotations, appropriate to the businessman's party, but lacking the cosiness of partners, a word which has become cosier down the ages. In its early days (it goes back at least to the 14th century) a partner was someone who shared something - anything - with no commitment implied: semi-detached house-dwellers were partners. By Georgian times it was being used sententiously by spouses ('partner of my heart'), at least in literature. Today it can certainly be applied to doctors or solicitors who, though partners, can hardly stand one another, but also to intimate lovers, and has lately become the acceptable word for co-habitors. How often do you hear lovers talking about their 'partnership'? Labour has the edge, it seems to me.